Review by Michael Piscitelli
This past week, I have been fortunate enough to go to two operas’ in a row. Both were comedic operas that took very different approaches to comedy, of black comedy and slapstick. For Richard Strauss’ 1933 comedic “Arabella”, director Tim Albery tried his hand at making it into a black comedy. Unfortunately, it fell flat, and made it more of a mellow drama (I’m fully aware of my choice of words) than a black comedy. A show about absurd ideas about love, mistaken identity and poor uses of money it’s sure to have many jokes sung throughout the piece.
The opera takes itself so seriously that it doesn’t leave much room for the humour. That isn’t to say it was a bad looking performance. By no means was it at all. If anything, it ended up playing up the melancholy of the era and showing the absurdity of the show in the text more than the performance itself.
Lighting wise, opera is always beautiful. Lighting designer David Finn and set and costume designer Tobias Hoheisel brought to lie the 1930’s with muted flair with their art deco inspired revolving set (which is astounding to watch as it’s turned from one location to the next) combined with the lighting to give it a romanticism era feel to the entire stage. The combination was beautiful and only made me want to get closer to see the details put in to the show.
Erin Wall who plays the titular character Arabella, has a lovely singing voice and plays coy yet endearing to her counterpart Mandryka, played by Tomasz Konieczny.
Regardless of what a show looks like, or how it’s directed, one thing that happened both nights I went to the Four Seasons, was that people seemed to have it in their head that it’s okay to get up and leave during the curtain call. To those people who have the gall to leave during the appreciation of the performers for spending the time to entertain you for the last two hours is beyond rude and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Curtain call is as much an appreciation of the audience to the actors as it is the actors to the audience. Leaving at that times proves how little you care about what you have just seen and about how much you want to “beat the rush”. If your time is so precious that you can’t be bothered to stay that extra few minutes, you should just stay home. I am always an advocate for people to go out and appreciate the arts, especially theatre, but rudeness like that should not be ignored. To those who are polite human beings, I recommend going to see this show and The Elixir of Love in tandem to get a good dichotomy of comedy. Arabella will be playing at the Four Seasons until October 28th.
BTW, That certain one-way street in downtown T.O. Is NOT named after Arabella’s mother!
#2 – “A colourful Elixir Of Love”
The Elixir of Love, composed by Donizetti, contrasts greatly with the previous evening of Arabella greatly. Elixir was bright, vibrantly colourful and the performers physicality brought to life the humour of the absurdity of the entire show.
The set was a stark (or rather, vibrant) contrast compared to the previous evenings performance. Bright colours filled the space as you could see the set was a designed to look like something out of the early 20th century. The director directly calls it “Anytown, Ontario” (but since it is a revival, it is more Anytown, USA) to give it a rustic, home feel. Set designer Allen Moyer originally created the scenic gazebo for the original run of the show in the US several years prior.
Slapstick comedy is great, and Italian opera leads itself well to have lots of comedic moments with how the librettos are usually written. “Elixir” has many great moments, too numerous to mention in this review, but one particularly stood out while I watched, and if you go, I would suggest paying careful attention in the first half to the “fight” between Belcore (Gordon Bintner) and Nemorino (Andrew Haji). Both men’s physical comedic timing is spot on and they play up the machismo and drunkenness that both characters experience splendidly.
Opera is very easy to determine in terms of whether you’re seeing a comedy or a tragedy, and The Elixir of Love is a great example of comedy that I would highly recommend going to see. If you get the chance to see it in tandem with Arabella (also at the Four Seasons), it will be a very nice contrast in terms of style and overall outlook on comedy.
The Elixir of Love is on the COC stage until Nov. 4th.